Though he had a varied career as a writer of short fiction, Texan author Robert E. Howard only wrote a single novel. Unsurprisingly, it centered upon his most popular character, Conan of Cimmeria. The finished novel, which Howard titled The Hour of the Dragon, was commissioned at the request of a British publisher, who subsequently rejected it. Howard then sent it on to his editor at Weird Tales magazine, who published it in a serialized format. It would later be reprinted as a novel throughout the 1950s and 1960s as Conan The Conqueror.

The story of how The Hour of the Dragon was adapted into a comic book is nearly as wild and varied. Writer and editor Roy Thomas, who had introduced Conan into the world of comics, had a bold plan to adapt Howard’s novel as a means of kicking-off a new quarterly Giant-Size Conan series, with the legendary Gil Kane illustrating the story. While Conan the Barbarian was popular, the Giant-Size line as a whole sold poorly, and Giant-Size Conan was canceled after only four issues of original material could be published. Thomas eventually saw the rest of the The Hour of the Dragon published, with illustrations by the equally legendary John Buscema, in two separate issues of the black-and-white magazine Savage Sword of Conan.

Conan: The Hour of the Dragon collects the whole of Thomas, Kane and Buscema’s adaptation of Howard’s magnum opus for the first time in a single volume, with all-color artwork, commentary by Thomas, script pages for Giant Size Conan #3 and a history of the fictional Acheron empire (which lies at the center of the story) by Robert L. Yaple. This volume also collects two original comics by Thomas and Buscema (published as Conan the Barbarian Annual #4 & #5, respectively) which detail the aftermath of The Hour of the Dragon.

The story itself is pure pulp magic. Conan, now a king by his own hand, is stricken by a sorcerous malady as he rides out to meet the armies that threaten to invade Aquilonia. Captured and condemned to a die in a dungeon while his people think him dead, Conan is rescued by Zenobia, a slavegirl who fell for him years earlier when he was a simple mercenary captain. Armed with a knife provided by Zenobia, Conan begins a quest to slay the sorcerers and usurping nobles responsible for his fall; one that will take him to the monster-haunted tombs of Stygia and see him once more sail with the Black Corsairs as Amra the Lion.

Conan: The Hour of the Dragon is an epic display of four masters at work. Howard’s prose is largely untouched by Thomas, who made only a few minor changes (noted in his introduction to this volume) to make the story more visually interesting. While Kane is better known for his superhero work, he proves no mean illustrator of sword-and-sorcery and Buscema is widely regarded as the finest artist to ever tackle Conan for Marvel Comics. This volume would make a fine addition to any library for that reason alone, if The Hour of the Dragon weren’t such a ripping yarn on its own terms.

Conan: The Hour of the Dragon is rated for audiences 17 and up, though I’m not certain why. There’s nothing objectionable to teen audiences beyond some blood-spattering violence, spooky stuff involving reanimated corpses and some scanty costuming but no outright nudity. A larger concern may be that the story is a product of its time and there’s some uncomfortable racial overtones with Conan being referred to as a white dog by his black jailers and Conan leading a slave revolt on a galley manned by black rowers. While it is Conan’s reputation as a fearsome pirate captain and being recognized by some of the rowers (who used to be part of his crew) that leads to the revolt, it still reeks somewhat of a white savior complex.

Conan: The Hour of the Dragon
By Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and John Buscema
ISBN: 9781302923297
Marvel Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Parental Advisory (17+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

  • Matt

    | He/Him Librarian

    Reviewer

    A librarian with over 10 years experience in public and academic settings, Matthew Morrison has been blogging about comic books for nearly as long as they’ve had a word for it.  Over the past two decades, he has written regular columns, commentary, parodies and reviews for such websites and blogs as Fanzing, 411 Mania, Screen Rant and Comics Nexus.  He has served as an Expert in Residence for a seminar on Graphic Novels and Comics for Youth and Adults at the University of North Texas and has given several lectures on the history of comics, manga and cosplay culture at libraries and comic conventions around the country. In addition to his work for No Flying No Tights, he is the Contributing Editor of Kabooooom.com and maintains a personal blog at MyGeekyGeekyWays.com.

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